STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Days before an election in which he wants immigration to be a major issue, President Trump has a new way to talk about immigration. He gave an interview to Axios in which he said that he is interested in the idea of ending birthright citizenship. That's the legal concept that someone born in the United States or to a U.S. citizen is also entitled to be a citizen.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Right, 14th Amendment.
TRUMP: Guess what? You don't.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You don't.
TRUMP: No. 1, you don't need that. No. 2, you can definitely do...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I mean, that's in dispute. That's very much in dispute.
TRUMP: Well, you can definitely do it with an act of Congress. But now they're saying I can do it just with an executive order. Now, how ridiculous - we're the only country in the world where a person comes in, has a baby and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years with all of those benefits. It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. And it has to end.
INSKEEP: There is a lot in that bit of video, including a number of statements that are false. Notably, the president is wrong to say that the United States alone grants birthright citizenship. Many countries around the world do, including Canada. Now let's talk about this with NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Hi, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Why is the president focused on this?
HORSLEY: Well, it seems to be conveniently timed for the midterm elections, which are just a week away today. This is an idea that was floated by Donald Trump and some other candidates during the 2016 campaign.
HORSLEY: And here we are in late 2018, and we have seen zero public activity towards actually acting on something like this until - now we are a week out from the midterm elections. The White House counsel, who would presumably play a role in drafting an order like this, has just left his post. The new White House counsel hasn't taken over. There's an acting person in that slot. So it seems suspicious that something like this is actually going to surface. It may be a little bit of vaporware, like the president's 10 percent middle class tax cut...
HORSLEY: ...That conveniently arises before the midterm and then is never seen or heard from again.
INSKEEP: I guess we should fact-check a little bit of what we just heard the president say there. And it is something he said during the campaign, complaining that someone who is known as an anchor baby would come here and be born on U.S. soil and therefore get 85 years of benefits. The reality is in many cases, of course, that person grows up and goes to work and works a job and creates value for the economy, correct?
HORSLEY: Well, that's right. And we're talking, really, about sort of two phenomenon. One is babies born to people who are living in the U.S. illegally, and then secondly, there's a nascent phenomenon known as birth tourism where you have wealthy immigrants coming to the U.S. specifically for the purpose of having children. We should say the 14th Amendment is very explicit. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens. Whether you can challenge that through an executive order is a pretty constitutionally dubious proposition.
INSKEEP: Well, that's what I want to ask about, Scott Horsley. The president says there - on the video, he says, OK, so it's in the Constitution. But some people think you can do it with Congress, so I'm going to try an executive order. That seems, to me, like he was saying, you need a plane to cross the Pacific Ocean. But some people think you can do it in a rowboat, so I'm going to try a scooter.
HORSLEY: (Laughter) He may try it. And this would certainly face a quick constitutional challenge.
INSKEEP: Although, as you point out, he hasn't done it yet. It's a thing he is raising, he is discussing days before an election.
HORSLEY: And this is catnip to the anti-immigrant faction within the GOP.
INSKEEP: All right, Scott. Thanks so much, really appreciate it.
HORSLEY: You're welcome, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.